District 8 Guilford County Commissioner Ray Trapp is stepping down from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and former Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston may step in to fill Trapp’s seat.
Trapp – a Democrat who was elected to the Board of Commissioners in November 2012 and who ran unopposed in 2016 – has taken a job as director of external affairs with NC A&T State University and his first day on the job will be Thursday, April 6, which is also the day of the next Board of Commissioners meeting.
In his new job with the university, Trapp will work to further A&T’s efforts with local, state and federal governments, which would create an obvious conflict of interest with his duties as a county commissioner.
Trapp was “hand-picked” to fill that District 8 seat five years ago by Alston, who served for two decades on the board and was chairman five times. Trapp said he’d like to see Alston fill his vacant seat.
“Since we are going into budget time,” Trapp said, “I think we need someone with experience who can step in.”
Trapp said he had spoken with Alston about Alston taking his place. The new commissioner must be a Democrat who lives in District 8 and Trapp said Alston, with his vast experience and knowledge of county government, was the obvious choice, and he expects Alston to be the choice of the local Democratic Party leaders.
Alston said he was considering what to do.
“I never say never,” Alston said of coming back to Guilford County government.
If Alston does come back to the Board of Commissioners, it will be a new environment for him because this time he would be in the minority party on the board rather than in the majority party that often calls the shots. The Democrats held a majority on the Board of Commissioners from 1998 until 2012 and Alston is used to being part of the party in charge.
Alston has plenty of experience working closely with Republicans, as he would have to do if he joins the current board. After the economic collapse of 2008, Alston was chairman for four years running and he served those years with a Republican vice-chairman. Alston has said many times that he was proud of the way that, after the economic collapse, the Democrats on the board worked closely with the Republicans to keep costs down and prevent property tax increases in those lean years.
Alston said that, with Trapp’s departure, the board was losing a great commissioner and a real champion for District 8.
“Ray was my pick when I decided not to run and I wish he could have stayed longer on the board,” Alston said. “He has the qualities to be a great leader, not just at the county level but at the state and national level as well. I hope that at some point in the future he will run for office at a higher level.
Trapp, who got his real estate license in 2009 and has been working for Allen Tate Realtors for the last year and a half, said he’ll greatly miss being a county commissioner, but he added that this new job opportunity was simply too good to pass up.
Trapp said the job title at A&T – and at some other universities in the state – was recently changed from “director of government affairs” to “director of external affairs,” but he said that name change didn’t alter the fact that he would be working directly with governments, at times essentially as a lobbyist, so there was no way he could take the job and continue to serve as a county commissioner.
“We tried to work it out,” Trapp said of both keeping his commissioners’ seat and taking the new job. “But there was just no way.”
Trapp is also giving up his real estate practice.
“This is 100 percent full time,” he said of the new job with the university.
Trapp, one of the most dynamic, quotable and affable Guilford County commissioners, is also one of the board’s most left-leaning members. Since being elected, he has been a champion of liberal causes with an emphasis on social services, veterans’ affairs and mental health issues.
Alston, who Trapp would like to see take his place, is also very liberal. If Alston is appointed to the new position, it would make an interesting dynamic to have the seasoned and at times feisty Alston on the same board with the relatively soft-spoken and less experienced Republican majority.
In addition to serving on the Board of Commissioners, Trapp also serves on various other county boards that he will have to vacate. He’s a member of the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee – and he previously served as chairman of that board.
Trapp said it’s bittersweet leaving his commissioners job.
“I loved it,” Trapp said of his four years and four months of service on the board. “It’s what I thought it would be.”
He said that, since he was a child, he had dreamed of serving the community in that way. He also said he could really get into some verbal bouts with the Republican commissioners at times, but he added that he thinks very highly of all of them and will miss working with them for the common good of Guilford County.
“We had some differences, but that’s politics,” Trapp said.
Trapp said he’s friends with the former occupant of the job at A&T and that the former director told Trapp he thought Trapp would be perfect in the job. Trapp said he found the idea very appealing because A&T was making great strides, doing a lot of positive things in the community and attracting big names as speakers.
“Mark Zuckerberg was just there, and Shark Tank’s Daymond John is coming soon,” Trapp said.
Trapp said he expects to attend the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 6, but he won’t be sitting in his usual seat at the dais.
“I’ll be there but I’ll be in the audience,” Trapp said.
He said it was a funny situation when he found out he’d been selected for the A&T director’s job because he and Chairman Jeff Phillips were in the car together delivering meals on wheels when Trapp got the call, so Phillips heard that conversation and knew something was up.
Trapp has been a real up-and-comer on the local scene in recent years. He serves on boards for the Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro and the Citizens for Economic and Environmental Justice.
In the past, he’s served on the Greensboro Minimum Housing Standards Commission and the Greensboro Zoning Commission, where he was the first African American to serve as chairman – not to mention the youngest person ever to serve in that position.
In 2011, he was named by the Triad Business Journal as one of the “Top 40 Business Leaders Under 40.”
According to the NC General Statutes, whoever is appointed to replace Trapp will serve until 2018, when a replacement will be elected to complete the final two years of Trapp’s four-year term.
Like Trapp, Alston is in the real estate business and has also been successful in several other businesses as well. In his 20 years on the board, Alston often got into very lively debates with many former Republican commissioners, most notably Billy Yow.